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Booksellers’ picks of the year: international fiction

Canadian booksellers contacted by Q&Q all pointed to American author Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel, The Night Circus, as one of the top books of 2011. “The buzz has been huge, and all the reviews I’ve seen have been raves,” says Christopher Johnson, a manager at Nicholas Hoare in Toronto.

Michael Hamm, manager of Bookmark in Halifax, credits much of The Night Circus’s buzz to the fact that early adopters of Harry Potter and the Twilight series have grown up reading supernatural tales. “Now that they’re adults, they’re looking for a fantastical book, and this one certainly fits the bill,” he says.

Another top seller this fall is The Marriage Plot, U.S. novelist Jeffrey Eugenides’s follow-up to Middlesex, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2003. “A lot of people hold Middlesex in such high regard that it’s kind of hard to top that,” Hamm says, “but I read [The Marriage Plot] and I loved it.”

Booksellers contacted by Q&Q also consider The Sense of an Ending, British writer Julian Barnes’s 2011 Man Booker Prize–winning novel, one of the year’s biggest successes. “That was selling well before it was given the award, and now it’s selling even more,” says Ian Donker, manager of Book City in Toronto, adding that The Sense of an Ending is an in-house favourite.

Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s ambitious new novel, 1Q84, has been extremely popular in Canada since its release in October, according to booksellers. Other top 2011 titles include Nobel Prize–winning Portuguese author José Saramago’s posthumous novel, Cain; British novelist Alan Hollinghurst’s new title, The Stranger’s Child; and American writer Stephen Mitchell’s translation of The Iliad.

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Book links round-up: a 140-character writing contest, Extraordinary Canadians onscreen, and more

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What do we prize: readability or literary merit?

Yesterday’s announcement of the finalists for the National Book Awards, one of the top U.S. literary prizes, raised what is becoming a familiar debate: should literary merit win out over readability when it comes to awarding book prizes?

Salon’s Laura Miller has critiqued this year’s NBA fiction shortlist for once again favouring esoteric, literary titles over more popular reads like Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot and Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding.

According to Miller, successive NBA juries have encouraged the perception of their own irrelevance in annointing so-called “writers’ writers” (i.e. those who favour “a poetic prose style, [and] elliptical or fragmented storytelling”) over the books most people actually want to read:

The National Book Award in fiction, more than any other American literary prize, illustrates the ever-broadening cultural gap between the literary community and the reading public … the NBA has come to indicate a book that somebody else thinks you ought to read, whether you like it or not.

Similar concerns about readability versus artistic merit cropped up last month when the Man Booker Prize jury said it strove to make this year’s shortlist more reader-friendly. In the wake of the Booker’s populist shortlist, a U.K. group announced this week that it will launch The Literature Prize to honour artistic excellence, which it feels the Booker now fails to recognize.

What about honouring books that are at once readable and literary? Booker administrator Ion Trewin told The Bookseller the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive:

“I think I have gone on record in the past as saying that I believe in literary excellence and readability – the two should go hand in hand.”

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Fall preview 2011: Canadian fiction

In the July/August issue, Q&Q looks ahead at the fall season’s biggest books.

NOVELS

One of the most anticipated releases of the fall season is surely the new novel from internationally acclaimed author Michael Ondaatje, his first since 2007 Governor General’s Literary Award winner Divisadero. Set in the early 1950s, The Cat’s Table (McClelland & Stewart, $32 cl., Sept.) tells the story of an 11-year-old boy crossing the Indian Ocean on a liner bound for England, and the mysterious prisoner shackled on board. • Also from M&S is Guy Vanderhaeghe’s first novel in eight years. Set in the late 19th-century Canadian and American West, A Good Man ($32.99 cl., Sept.) is the third book in a loose trilogy that also includes The Last Crossing (2003) and The Englishman’s Boy, which won the 1996 Governor General’s Literary Award. • A third GG winner has a new novel out this season: David Gilmour, who won in 2005 for his previous novel, A Perfect Night to Go to China. Gilmour returns with The Perfect Order of Things (Thomas Allen Publishers, $26.95 cl., Sept.), the story of a man who revisits traumatic and life-changing incidents from his past.

Marina Endicott follows up her Scotiabank Giller Prize–shortlisted 2008 novel Good to a Fault with The Little Shadows (Doubleday Canada, $32.95 cl., Sept.), about three sisters who become vaudeville singers following the death of their father. • Acclaimed novelist Helen Humphreys returns with an historical novel set in France during the Napoleonic period. The Reinvention of Love (HarperCollins Canada, $29.99 cl., Sept.) is about a French journalist whose affair with Victor Hugo’s wife causes a scandal (as it might be expected to do).

Brian Francis’s debut novel, Fruit, was a runner-up in the 2009 edition of CBC’s battle of the books, Canada Reads. His second novel, Natural Order (Doubleday Canada, $29.95 cl., Aug.), tells the story of a mother who is forced to confront the secrets she has kept about her son when her carefully constructed life is overturned by a startling revelation. • Kevin Chong returns to fiction with his first novel in a decade. Beauty Plus Pity (Arsenal Pulp Press, $17.95 pa., Sept.) follows an Asian-Canadian slacker in Vancouver whose incipient modelling career is derailed by the death of his father and the sudden departure of his fiancée.

Requiem (HarperCollins Canada, $32.95 cl., Sept.), the third novel from Frances Itani, is about a Japanese-Canadian who embarks upon a cross-country journey of discovery following the death of his wife. • Anita Rau Badami follows her best-selling novels Tamarind Mem and The Hero’s Walk with Tell It to the Trees (Knopf Canada, $32 cl., Sept.), about the Dharma family – the authoritarian Vikram, the gourmand Suman, and the old storyteller Akka. When the Dharmas’ tenant, Anu, turns up dead on their doorstep, the family’s long-buried secrets begin to boil over. • Gayla Reid returns with her first novel since 2002’s Closer Apart. Set during the Spanish Civil War, Come from Afar (Cormorant Books, $32 cl., Aug.) tells the story of an Australian nurse who falls into a relationship with a Canadian soldier from the International Brigade.

Haitian expat Dany Laferrière is back with his third novel in translation in three years. The Return (Douglas & McIntyre, $22.95 pa., Aug.) tells the story of a 23-year-old Haitian named Dany who flees Baby Doc Duvalier’s repressive regime and relocates to Montreal. Thirty-three years later, Dany learns of his father’s death in New York City, and plots a return to his native country. David Homel translates. • Another Montreal resident, poet Sina Queyras, has a novel out this fall, the author’s first. Autobiography of Childhood (Coach House Books, $20.95 pa., Oct.) is about one day in the lives of five siblings haunted by the death of a brother years before. • Infrared (McArthur & Company, $29.95 cl., Sept.), the new novel by Nancy Huston, is about a photographer who travels to Tuscany with her father and stepmother. Employing internal dialogues with the photographer’s mental doppelgänger, Huston opens up her hero for exposure and provides an intimate picture of her interior life.

CanLit mainstay David Helwig returns with a novella, his first since 2007’s Smuggling Donkeys. Killing McGee (Oberon, $38.95 cl., $18.95 pa., Oct.) tells the story of a professor’s dual obsessions with the assassination of D’Arcy McGee and the disappearance of one of his students. • Toronto-based poet Dani Couture returns with her first novel, a surreal and iconoclastic take on that perennial CanLit staple: the family drama. Algoma (Invisible Publishing, $19.95 pa., Oct.) tells the story of a family attempting to cope with the aftermath of a young child falling through the ice and drowning. • Shari Lapeña also has a novel about a perennial CanLit concern: raising money to allow one time to write poetry. Happiness Economics (Brindle & Glass, $19.95 pa., Sept.) tells the story of a stalled poet who takes a job writing advertising copy to start a poetry foundation.

Jamaican-born novelist, poet, and non-fiction author Olive Senior returns to long-form fiction with Dancing Lessons (Cormorant, $22 pa., Aug.), about a woman looking back on her life after a hurricane destroys her home. • Memoirist Frances Greenslade (A Pilgrim in Ireland, By the Secret Ladder) has a debut novel out this August. Shelter (Random House Canada, $29.95 cl.) is a coming of age story about two sisters searching for their mother, who abandoned them after their father was killed in a logging accident.

Not one, but two novels this season extend the burgeoning CanLit focus on towns that have been/are about to be flooded (after Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists, Anne Michaels’ The Winter Vault, and Michael V. Smith’s Progress). Tristan Hughes’s Eye Lake (Coach House, $19.95 pa., Oct.) is about the town of Crooked River, Ontario. Named for a river that was diverted to make way for a mine, the town harbours secrets that surface when the river reclaims its original course. • And in September, Goose Lane Editions will publish Riel Nason’s The Town that Drowned ($19.95 pa.), about the suspicions, secrets, and emotions that flare up when the township of Haverton is scheduled to be flooded to allow for the construction of a massive dam.

Edward Riche follows up his Thomas Head Raddall Award winner The Nine Planets with Easy to Like (House of Anansi Press, $29.95 cl., Sept.), a satire about a screenwriter and oenophile who dreams of travelling to Paris, but is trapped in Canada by an expired passport and a growing Hollywood scandal. Relocating to Toronto, he bluffs his way into the upper echelons of the CBC. • Former president and CEO of Penguin Canada, David Davidar was forced out of his position under a cloud of scandal after accusations of sexual harassment. Davidar’s new novel, Ithaca (M&S, $29.99 cl., Oct.), is, perhaps not coincidentally, about the rise and fall of a publishing star.

Canadian literary icon Michel Tremblay returns with a new novel, the first in a trilogy. Set in 1913, Crossing the Continent (Talonbooks, $18.95 pa., Oct.) takes the author’s characters out of Quebec for the first time, to tell the backstory of the people who populate his Chroniques du Plateau-Mont-Royal series. Long-time Tremblay collaborator Sheila Fischman translates.

A resident of St. John’s, Newfoundland, lately one of the most fertile spots for Canadian writing, Michelle Butler Hallett crafts genre-busting stories and novels that frequently experiment with gender and perspective. Her new novel, Deluded Your Sailors (Creative Book Publishing, $21.95 pa., Sept.), focuses on the culture industry from the perspective of Nichole Wright, who makes a discovery that puts a government-funded tourism project in jeopardy, and a shape-shifting minister named Elias Winslow. • Another Newfoundland native, Kate Story, has a novel out with Creative this season. The follow-up to 2008’s Blasted, Wrecked Upon This Shore ($21.95 pa., Sept.) tells the story of Pearl Lewis, an emotionally damaged, charismatic woman who is seen at different stages in her life.

In 1972, Christina Parr returns to her hometown of Parr’s Landing, a place she fled years earlier. The dirty secret of Parr’s Landing? A 300-year-old vampire resides in the caves of the remote mining town. Christina learns why she should have stayed away in Michael Rowe’s Enter, Night (ChiZine Publications, $17.95 pa., Oct.). • English literature professor Janey Erlickson struggles to make headway in her academic career while caring for a tyrannical toddler in Sue Sorensen’s comic novel A Large Harmonium (Coteau Books, $21 pa., Sept.). • Paul Brenner, a Vancouver lawyer, dines with his son, Daniel, one Friday evening. The next day, Brenner receives word that his son has been murdered. Hold Me Now (Freehand Books, $21.95 pa., Oct.), the first novel from Stephen Gauer, examines a father’s grief and a lawyer’s faith in the legal system.

SHORT FICTION

Anyone who has ever wondered what might transpire if the author of Bigfoot’s autobiography were to illustrate a story collection by Canada’s reigning postmodern ironist can stop wondering. October sees the publication of Highly Inappropriate Tales for Young People (Random House Canada, $24 cl.), the first collaboration between author Douglas Coupland and well-known illustrator Graham Roumieu.

D.W. Wilson currently lives in London, England, but is a native of B.C.’s Kootenay Valley. The winner of the inaugural Man Booker Prize Scholarship from the University of East Anglia, Wilson’s debut collection, Once You Break a Knuckle (Hamish Hamilton Canada, $32 cl., Sept.), is a suite of stories about good people doing bad things.

Novelist Anne DeGrace has her first collection of short stories on tap for September. Flying with Amelia (McArthur & Company, $29.95 cl.) spans the 20th century and crosses vast swathes of territory. Wireless telegraphy, German POWs in Manitoba, the Great Depression, and the FLQ crisis all crop up in her stories. • David Whitton’s story “Twilight of the Gods” was included in the 2010 sci-fi anthology Darwin’s Bastards. The story also appears in Whitton’s first solo collection, The Reverse Cowgirl (Freehand, $21.95 pa., Oct.), which sports the most sexually suggestive title for a collection of CanLit stories since Pasha Malla’s The Withdrawal Method.

Toronto writer Rebecca Rosenblum follows up her Metcalf-Rooke Award–winning debut collection Once (a Q&Q book of the year for 2009) with The Big Dream (Biblioasis, $19.95 pa., Sept.), a collection of linked stories about the lives of workers at Dream, Inc., a lifestyle-magazine publisher. • The Maladjusted (Thistledown Press, $18.95 pa., Sept.), Toronto writer Derek Hayes’ debut collection, focuses on people who run afoul of the dictates of polite society. • Also from Thistledown, Britt Holmström’s Leaving Berlin ($18.95 pa., Sept.) examines contemporary women in both Canadian and European settings.

The fine print: Q&Q’s fall preview covers books published between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2011. All information (titles, prices, publication dates, etc.) was supplied by publishers and may have been tentative at Q&Q’s press time. • Titles that have appeared in previous previews do not appear here.

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Pick, Edugyan, deWitt make Booker longlist

Three Canadian authors have made the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction longlist, announced today. Alison Pick’s Far to Go (House of Anansi Press, Q&Q’s September 2010 cover profile), Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues (forthcoming from Thomas Allen & Son in September and profiled in the July-August 2011 issue of Q&Q), and Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers (House of Anansi) are vying for the title of “the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland.”

It’s also worth noting three of the longlisted titles come from House of Anansi, which is also the domestic publisher of Stephen Kelman’s longlisted book, Pigeon English.

The full list includes:

  • Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape/Random House)
  • Sebastian Barry, On Canaan’s Side (Faber)
  • Carol Birch, Jamrach’s Menagerie (Canongate Books/HarperCollins)
  • Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers (Granta/House of Anansi)
  • Esi Edugyan, Half Blood Blues (Serpent’s Tail/Thomas Allen)
  • Yvvette Edwards, A Cupboard Full of Coats (Oneworld)
  • Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger’s Child (Picador/Pan Macmillan)
  • Stephen Kelman, Pigeon English (Bloomsbury/House of Anansi)
  • Patrick McGuinness, The Last Hundred Days (Seren Books)
  • A.D. Miller, Snowdrops (Atlantic)
  • Alison Pick, Far to Go (Headline Review/House of Anansi)
  • Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press)
  • D.J. Taylor, Derby Day (Chatto & Windus/Random House)

The six-title shortlist will be revealed Sept. 6 and the winner announced Oct. 18. Each author included on the shortlist will receive £2,500 and a special edition of their book. The winner will be awarded an additional £50,000. The jury, chaired by Dame Stella Rimington, is made up of writer Matthew d’Ancona, author Susan Hill, author and politician Chris Mullin, and Gaby Wood, books editor at The Daily Telegraph.

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Rohinton Mistry nominated for Man Booker International, while le Carré asks to be withdrawn

Rohinton Mistry

The shortlist for the Man Booker International Prize 2011 was announced in Sydney, Australia, this morning.

Rohinton Mistry, author of A Fine Balance and a three-time Booker nominee, is the only Canadian represented on the shortlist. The £60,000 prize (apx. $93,600 Cdn.) is awarded to an author once every two years, recognizing an overall contribution to English-language fiction. In 2009, Alice Munro received the prestigious honour.

Shortly after the announcement was made, agents for John le Carré released this statement on behalf of the U.K. nominee: “I am enormously flattered to be named as a finalist of 2011 Man Booker International Prize. However I do not compete for literary prizes and have therefore asked for my name to be withdrawn.”

Rick Gekoski, chair of this year’s judges, responded: “John le Carré’s name will, of course, remain on the list. We are disappointed that he wants to withdraw from further consideration because we are great admirers of his work.”

Joining Gekoski as 2011 judges are publishing vet Carmen Callil and author Justin Cartright.

The winner will be revealed at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on May 18, followed by an awards ceremony in London on June 28. The 13 authors on the list are:

  • Wang Anyi (China)
  • Juan Goytisolo (Spain)
  • James Kelman (U.K.)
  • John le Carré (U.K.)
  • Amin Maalouf (Lebanon)
  • David Malouf (Australia)
  • Dacia Maraini (Italy)
  • Rohinton Mistry (India/Canada)
  • Philip Pullman (U.K.)
  • Marilynne Robinson (U.S.)
  • Philip Roth (U.S.)
  • Su Tong (China)
  • Anne Tyler (U.S.)

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Scotiabank Giller Prize jury announced

The jury for the 2011 edition of the Scotiabank Giller Prize was unveiled today. American novelist Howard Norman and U.K. writer Andrew O’Hagan will join B.C. author and former Giller nominee Annabel Lyon on this year’s jury. Lyon was nominated for the prize in 2009 for her novel The Golden Mean.

Following in the footsteps of the Man Booker Prize, this year for the first time Giller jurors will be offered digital versions of the books in addition to traditional hard copies. From the press release:

The Scotiabank Giller Prize will ask publishers this year to provide digital copies of its submitted titles in addition to hard-bound copies. We’re pleased to announce that we’ll be partnering on this initiative with Kobo who will be generously donating three Kobo Wireless E-Readers to the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize jury panel.

The longlist for this year’s Giller will be announced on Sept. 6. The shortlist will follow on Oct. 4, with the winner being announced at a gala dinner in Toronto on Nov. 8.

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Books of the Year 2010: Fiction and Poetry

There’s no formula for choosing the books of the year. Some break ground, some tackle familiar themes with new energy. Some represent the best work from established authors, some introduce us to important new voices. And some are simply in-house favourites we feel deserve a little more attention. Here are the Fiction and Poetry books that made the most impact in 2010.
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Two views of Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize–winning author of The God of Small Things, has been in the news recently for her outspoken comments about Kashmiri secession from India. Last week, rumours began circulating that the author might be charged with sedition for a speech in which she said, in part, “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. It is a historical fact.”

Although the Indian government appears to have backed away from charging Roy with sedition, on Sunday a mob gathered at the author’s Delhi home to demand she retract her statements. From the Guardian:

Around 150 members of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s women’s organisation surrounded the house chanting slogans such as: “Take back your statement, else leave India.” The BJP is fiercely opposed to Kashmiri independence.

Although Roy has received support from left-leaning commentators at the Guardian and on other websites (notably that of fellow author Hari Kunzru), Leo Mirani, also writing in the Guardian, feels the author’s overheated rhetoric has made her statements “irrelevant in Indian public discourse.” Mirani writes:

Who would want to live in Arundhati Roy’s India? Who would even want to read about Arundhati Roy’s India? The government of India has many faults, but even Roy has to admit that living in this country isn’t entirely intolerable. Confronted with the relentlessly bleak picture she paints, one in which the only good guys are murderers and mercenaries, who can blame middle India for retreating into their iPods and tabloid newspapers?

Roy has important things to say, but her tone and bluster ensure the only people listening are those who already agree with her. She is preaching to the converted. To the left-leaning publications of the west, she is an articulate, intelligent voice explaining the problems with 21st-century India. For the university lefties in India, she confirms their worst fears of a nation falling apart. But to any intelligent readers who may be sitting on the fence or for anyone from middle-class India taking their first tentative steps towards greater political involvement, her polemic serves to terrify and alienate.

Clearly, the 150 people who stormed Roy’s house on Sunday don’t feel that her statements are irrelevant. As for Roy herself, she has issued a press release in which she insinuates possible collusion between the protestors and the media (TV vans had appeared in the neighbourhood prior to the demonstrators descending upon her house):

What is the nature of the agreement between these sections of the media and mobs and criminals in search of spectacle? Does the media which positions itself at the “scene” in advance have a guarantee that the attacks and demonstrations will be non-violent? What happens if there is criminal trespass (as there was today) or even something worse? Does the media then become accessory to the crime?

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Thrice-nominated Howard Jacobson takes the Booker

The surprise winner of this year’s £50,000 Man Booker Prize for Fiction is British author Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury), a comic novel exploring Jewish identity. Jacobson, a London-based journalist and author of Kalooki Nights (longlisted for the Booker in 2006) and Who’s Sorry Now (longlisted in 2002), beat out Canadian favourite Emma Donoghue (Room) and Tom McCarthy (C). From the official press release:

Said to have “some of the wittiest, most poignant and sharply intelligent comic prose in the English language,” The Finkler Question has been described as “wonderful” and “richly satisfying” and as a novel of “full of wit, warmth, intelligence, human feeling and understanding.”

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

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